WELCOME TO IWPR'S REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA, No. 629, September 24, 2010 SPECIAL REPORT
UZBEK GOVERNMENT IN DENIAL ON MIGRATION Official unwillingness to face up to migrant issues is major obstacle to effective protection. By Shohida Sarvarova, Kamilla Abdullaeva OPPOSITION TO CHALLENGE KAZAK LEADER Planned referendum to press for presidents resignation doomed to failure, analysts say. By Yulia Kuznetsova KYRGYZSTAN DEBATES CUSTOMS UNION ENTRY Obvious benefits to good trading terms with Russia and Kazakstan, but economists see pitfalls as well. By Asyl Osmonalieva INTERVIEW TAJIKISTAN NEEDS CHILD-FRIENDLY JUSTICE Juvenile rights advocate calls for joined-up reforms to reduce number of youth offenders given custodial sentences. By Parvina Khamidova TAJIK VILLAGE DECIMATED BY TB Disease has reached emergency levels, but village is not designated as priority for governments tuberculosis programme. By Biloli Shams **** NEW ************************************************************************************ VACANCIES AVAILABLE: http://iwpr.net/what-we-do/vacancies **** IWPR RESOURCES ****************************************************************** CENTRAL ASIA PROGRAMME HOME: http://www.iwpr.net/programme/central-asia IWPR COMMENT: http://iwpr.net/report-news/editorial-comment BECOME A FAN OF IWPR ON FACEBOOK http://facebook.com/InstituteforWarandPeaceReporting FOLLOW US ON TWITTER http://twitter.com/iwpr **** http://iwpr.net/ ********************************************************** RSS FEEDS: http://iwpr.net/syndication/builder DONATE TO IWPR: http://iwpr.net/donate **** http://iwpr.net/ ********************************************************** SPECIAL REPORT UZBEK GOVERNMENT IN DENIAL ON MIGRATION Official unwillingness to face up to migrant issues is major obstacle to effective protection. By Shohida Sarvarova, Kamilla Abdullaeva Hundreds of thousands of Uzbeks working abroad enjoy few protections because their government is in denial about their existence, rights activists say. As in neighbouring Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, the labour force in Uzbekistan has gone abroad in large numbers in recent years in hope of escaping a dire economic situation at home and earning a decent wage in countries like Russia and Kazakstan. Unlike the Tajik and Kyrgyz governments, however, the Uzbek authorities do not acknowledge the exodus and the substantial sums the migrants send home because the official line is that the domestic economy is booming. As a result, they make little effort to ensure migrant workers are covered by the right legislation, deny them pension and other benefits, and do nothing when their citizens suffer mistreatment or worse abroad. The authorities position seems to be that since many of the migrants are illegal, they do not officially exist, so the Uzbek state need not step in if they are murdered or get into difficulties while abroad. OFFICIALS DOWNPLAY SCALE OF EXODUS The Agency for Labour Migration Abroad, which is part of Uzbekistans labour and welfare ministry, says the number of people working abroad only runs into thousands. But the non-government Initiative Group of Independent Human Rights Defenders cites estimates suggesting that between two and five million of the countrys 28 million people are out of the country, mostly in Russia and Kazakstan, but also in the United Arab Emirates and South Korea. Tashpulat Yoldashev, an Uzbek analyst now living in the United States, says the outflow of labour not only makes a substantial contribution to the national economy through the money remittances workers send home to their impoverished families; it also relieves social pressures created by high de facto unemployment. Every migrant sends home at least 1,500 US dollars a year, which provides a decent amount of support for family members left behind in Uzbekistan, he explained. As well as earning wages, the migrants are enriched with new ideas, they acquire business skills, and some come back home and set up their own businesses. However, this contribution goes unrecognised. The Uzbek government continues to insist the economy is going from strength to strength, a claim which would be undermined by a public admission that people are leaving in droves to perform manual tasks in Russia. Addressing the nation on Uzbekistans independence day, September 1, President Islam Karimov said gross domestic product had shown a 250 per cent increase since 1990, a year before the republic split off from the Soviet Union. He announced that average monthly wages would reach 500 dollars by the end of 2010. While low by most standards, this figure looks unattainable since the governments own figures show wages averaged 200 dollars in June, using the optimistic official exchange rate. For many years, Tashkent has been boasting of high economic growth, saying that up to a million new jobs are created every year, and not admitting to the high levels of unemployment in the country, Yoldashev said. At the same time, Uzbekistan is becoming the main supplier of unemployed labour to job markets in other [former Soviet] countries, particularly Russia. Abdurahman Tashanov of Ezgulik, a human rights group in Uzbekistan, added, All this propagandistic glitz creates an impression of prosperity. The authorities obstinacy means labour migrants are deprived of even the minimum social guarantees. When IWPR contacted Uzbekistans labour migration agency about the figures, a representative who would not give his name denied there was a problem. There isnt a flood. Everything is within normal bounds. Migration takes place within a legal framework, he said by phone. If there are illegals, that isnt an issue for us to deal with. MIGRANTS EXIST OUTSIDE THE LAW These comments by exemplify a key problem the procedures for leaving Uzbekistan as a legally-registered migrant worker are so complex that the vast majority evade the system. The Expert Working Group, a non-government pool of analysts in Uzbekistan, says the application process takes two weeks and is expensive for someone who almost by definition will be on a low income or else unemployed. In any case, the migration agency is not in a position to find jobs abroad for many or most of the people applying. So many people take a chance and go off to Russia as illegal migrants, sometimes using private employment agencies in Uzbekistan that may not deliver on promises of work. Hayitboy Yoqubov, head of the Najot human rights group based in Khorezm region of northern Uzbekistan, explained that once people have spent several years working abroad, they drop out of the welfare system, regardless of whether their status is legal or illegal. A bureaucratic system largely unchanged since Soviet times requires them to produce paperwork unavailable to them abroad. When someone works abroad, they earn money but once they come back home, they cannot count on receiving, say, a pension, as they need documents confirming they have worked in Uzbekistan or have made welfare contributions there, which they wont have, Yoqubov said, adding that for the same reason, If a migrant has underage children back home, his wife wont receive child benefit. GOVERNMENT SHOULD SPEAK UP FOR NATIONALS ABROAD Workers from Uzbekistan, like those from Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, typically fill low-paid manual jobs on building sites, farms, the logging industry, catering and cleaning. Yoldashev said many work 15 hours a day, six days a week, and live in basements and other places unfit for human habitation, or in tents all year round. Those working illegally have no protection under the laws of the host country, and are left at the mercy of they employers. They cannot claim compensation for unfair treatment or accidents at work, or demand minimum pay. They are also vulnerable to abuse and extortion by police, who use the threat of deportation. Our illegal status is to the advantage of the boss I work for, Shavkat Azizov, an Uzbek working in Kazakstan, said. We dont have any rights. We are fed poorly, paid a pittance and badly treated. Dosym Satpaev, a political analyst in the Kazak city of Almaty, said, As long as Uzbek gastarbeiters have no rights, theyll be prepared to pay off the police for the right to work. The paradox is that the number of illegal migrants is growing. Abuses of migrant workers rights are of course the host countrys problem, not Uzbekistans. But the Uzbek government does not speak up for its citizens in the same way as the Tajik and Kyrgyz leaderships, which have attempted to intercede with Moscow and agree basic terms, at least for the legal migrants. The Uzbek migration agency points to a 2007 agreement with Russia that guarantees protection for the rights and interests of nationals of Uzbekistan. But rights activists would like to see the government sign up to international agreements regulating all aspects of labour migration, from the initial job search through work abroad all the way to repatriation, such as the 1990 United Nations Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families and the Convention Concerning Migrations in Abusive Conditions and the Promotion of Equality of Opportunity and Treatment of Migrant Workers. Central Asians working abroad are not only exposed to hazardous conditions that can lead to accidents, they are also the target of racist attacks in Russia. The Moscow Bureau for Human Rights said 11 Uzbek workers were killed and six were seriously injured in assaults in Russia last year. The Najot group said four more were killed this summer.. A migrant in the Russian city of Novosibirsk, who gave his name as Bahrom, told IWPR of an increasing trend for Uzbeks to simply disappear off the face of the earth. Relatives often went to the local Russian police for help, but nothing ever happened. Yoqubov said most cases of murder and disappearance were never investigated by the authorities in the host country. He is certain that if Uzbek government officials formally asked their Russian or Kazak counterparts to look into such cases, there would be more chance of action being taken. But he says that in his experience, this never happens. The office of the Prosecutor General of Uzbekistan has a department that deals with labour migration, and weve written to them a hundred times asking them to take steps to search for missing migrants. Unfortunately, I cannot give a single example to date of where the prosecution service or any other government agency has been able to help with the search, Yoqubov said. They virtually never give us a reply. Once they responded that since the illegal migrant hadnt informed the authorities when he left the country, they couldnt do anything. As well as active official intervention when migrants get into trouble abroad, Yoqubov would like to see a series of measures taken in Uzbekistan itself to ensure migrants are protected before they set up, such as bank accounts for them to pay in their wages and where money would be deducted to cover emergency funds. If these migrants found their jobs legally, they would be known to the embassy, they would make welfare payments to the Uzbek government, and the authorities would be more interested in their lives and would find the money to search for them [if they went missing], he said. Shohida Sarvarova and Kamilla Abdullaeva are pseudonyms for Uzbek journalists. This article was produced jointly under two IWPR projects: Building Central Asian Human Rights Protection & Education Through the Media, funded by the European Commission; and the Human Rights Reporting, Confidence Building and Conflict Information Programme, funded by the Foreign Ministry of Norway. The contents of this article are the sole responsibility of IWPR and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of either the European Union or the Foreign Ministry of Norway. OPPOSITION TO CHALLENGE KAZAK LEADER Planned referendum to press for presidents resignation doomed to failure, analysts say. By Yulia Kuznetsova An opposition plan to campaign for a national referendum as a way of forcing Kazakstan's president Nursultan Nazarbaev to resign is so unrealistic that it is little more than a publicity stunt, analysts say. People Power, a coalition between the Alga party and the Communist Party of Kazakstan, CPK, plans to launch the campaign at an event on September 25. To win approval for a referendum, organisers would need to gather 200,000 signatures in which all administrative regions of Kazakstan must be represented in equal measure. Announcing the referendum plan at a September 2 press conference, Alga leader Vladimir Kozlov said it was time for a change at the top in Kazakstan, and this should take place as an orderly, legitimate succession process. Nazarbaev has run the republic for over two decades, since it was part of the Soviet Union. People who feel theyve got the capacity to run the country know theres no legislative route to power, so they might start seeking other ways, Kozlov told IWPR. And that would mean violence and chaos. We dont need that. In April this year, neighbouring Kyrgyzstan was plunged into sustained political turbulence when the then president Kurmanbek Bakiev was ousted from power. The instability culminated in an explosion of ethnic clashes in and around the southern cities of Osh and Jalalabad in June, which left at least 330 people dead and caused widespread devastation. Kozlov said the legislation in place in Kazakstan was geared towards continuity rather than changes of power. Power must be handed on, otherwise lets abolish the republic and proclaim ourselves a sultanate, he said. Kozlov made it clear he did not necessarily mean the opposition should come to power, as there were many potential successors in the ruling elite. The immediate motive for the People Power referendum campaign is a recent law according Nazarbaev lifelong status as Leader of the Nation, which would leave him with considerable political clout and immunity from prosecution if and when he decides to stand down. The next presidential election is due in 2012. The law, published in government-run newspapers media on June 15, was signed by the prime minister and the speakers of both houses of parliament. Nazarbaev, who normally signs bills into law, has not done so but nor has he vetoed it. In any case, laws come into force on the day they are published. The official reaction to the People Power's proposal came the day after the press conference, when Yerlan Karin, secretary of the presidents party Nur Otan told the KazTAG news agency that it made no sense and was an absurd idea. Karin said opposition groups were weak and lacked a real presence across Kazakstan, and were therefore incapable of managing the complexities of arranging a referendum. The result, he predicted, was that they would lose rather than gain public support. He added that President Nazarbaev enjoyed the confidence and backing of a majority of Kazakstans population. Many analysts, and even some other opposition politicians, agree that People Power stands little chance of bringing its referendum plan to fruition. They point out that one of the blocs members, Alga, is not even a recognised political party, as the government has consistently refused to grant it registration. Anton Morozov of the Institute for Strategic Studies, which is linked to the presidents office, said the bloc members were not a strong opposition force. In all the time the [Alga] party has existed, most of its actions have not gone any further than various PR events and moves. This idea therefore cant be seen as a serious threat to the current authorities, he told IWPR. Vladislav Kosarev, leader of the Communist Peoples Party, a separate group from the CPK, said he believed Alga was motivated partly by its grievance over the registration issue. Its understandable that in a situation like that, all the partys members will be calling for the presidents resignation. But the party is by no means the entire nation, he said. Bolat Abilov, co-chairman of the opposition Azat National Social Democratic Party, expressed doubts about the feasibility of a referendum in the current political set-up. In an interview for RFE/RLs Kazak service on September 2, Abilov said, Our own party has tried to organise referenda on various issues on several occasions, but none of these attempts succeeded. The authorities obstructed our efforts every time. And on a difficult subject like this one... I doubt its possible. Maxim Kaznacheev, head of the politics department at the Institute of Political Solutions in Almaty, said People Power lacked the nationwide reach needed to publicise the campaign and gather large numbers of signatures. We need to realise that this political bloc doesnt have the information resources to get its referendum idea into the public consciousness, he said. Kozlov told IWPR he was well aware of the risks of challenging Nazarbaev, especially since Kazak legislation includes tough penalties for insulting the president. To head off legal troubles, he wrote to the presidential administration and the prosecutor generals office in July to clarify whether a referendum asking whether the president should resign could be classed as a criminal offence. Kozlov says the prosecutors office has assured him a written response has been posted to him, but he has not received it. In the absence of a negative response, he said, People Power feels it can go ahead with launching its campaign. Yulia Kuznetsova is a freelance journalist in Kazakstan. This article was produced jointly under two IWPR projects: Building Central Asian Human Rights Protection & Education Through the Media, funded by the European Commission; and the Human Rights Reporting, Confidence Building and Conflict Information Programme, funded by the Foreign Ministry of Norway. The contents of this article are the sole responsibility of IWPR and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of either the European Union or the Foreign Ministry of Norway. KYRGYZSTAN DEBATES CUSTOMS UNION ENTRY Obvious benefits to good trading terms with Russia and Kazakstan, but economists see pitfalls as well. By Asyl Osmonalieva As Kyrgyzstans government seriously considers joining a customs bloc with neighbouring Kazakstan as well as Russia and Belarus, some economic experts have voiced doubts over the wisdom of doing so, at least in the near future. Kyrgyzstans president Roza Otunbaeva announced that her country wanted to join the customs union during a July meeting of the Eurasian Economic Community, EurAsEC, a wider grouping of former Soviet states. Otunbaeva ordered a working group to look into the economic implications of joining the customs bloc, which is moving towards the eventual creation of a common market encompassing a population of some 170 million people by the end of 2012. For the weak Kyrgyz economy, harmonising customs arrangements with Russia and Kazakstan is seen as essential if it is to continue trading with them on anything like equal terms. Last year, these two states accounted for over 28 and ten per cent of Kyrgyzstans foreign trade, respectively. The introduction of common customs rules for Russia, Belarus and Kazakstan at the beginning of July was a step towards a new divide that will set members of the customs union apart from non-members. (See Customs Deal Brings Kazaks Closer to Russia http://iwpr.net/report-news/customs-deal-brings-kazaks-closer-russia Previously, all EurAsEC members enjoyed a duty-free trading relationship with one another. Now outsiders will have to pay whatever import duties the customs union applies, so Kyrgyzstans leaders are calculating that they would be better off on the inside. More broadly, Kyrgyzstan has wider economic and political reasons to stay close to Russia and Kazakstan, as both are major investors, while Moscow also provides significant aid and loans. Both countries play host to large numbers of labour migrants from Kyrgyzstan. Anarkhan Rahmanova, who heads the international trade department at the Kyrgyz Ministry for Economic Regulation, has been appointed to lead the working group on customs union entry, and says the value of trade with Russia and Kazakstan is a key consideration. More than 41 per cent of our trade is with customs union countries, so joining would enable to increase our exports to them, she said. According to Pavel Dyatlenko, a political analyst with the Polis Asia think-tank, Russia and Kazakstan are actively helping Kyrgyzstan recover from the ethnic violence that rocked the southern towns of Osh and Jalalabad in June and left a trail of devastation. Dyatlenko says the Kyrgyz economy, and government finances in particular, are in such poor shape that it cannot afford to go it alone. With a yawning budget deficit for the current year, he said, a great deal of money is needed to rebuild Osh and Jalalabad and to compensate for the decline in [foreign] trade revenues, investment, remittances from labour migrants and tourist industry income. He added that Kyrgyzstans economy survives because it export raw materials to these countries, and re-exports large amounts of Chinese goods to them. Government representative Mukhtar Jumaliev told the 24.kg news agency in July that the customs union would not apply import duties to items produced within Kyrgyzstan, only to goods originally imported from elsewhere and then re-exported. This will affect Kyrgyzstans position as Central Asias main retail point for Chinese-made consumer goods, which are exported all over the region. China is Kyrgyzstans second-largest trading partner after Russia, accounting for 14 per cent of trade last year. If Kyrgyzstan does not join the customs union, it will find it much harder to export Chinese goods to Kazakstan at a profit but if it does join, it will end up taxing imports from China at a higher rate. China and Kyrgyzstan currently grant one another favourable terms within the framework of the World Trade Organisation, WTO, of which they are both members. Neither Russia nor Kazakstan is in the WTO, however, a fact which lead some Kyrgyz analysts to worry that their country would lose out by switching from one set of rules to another. Kyrgyzstan could end up having to apply import duties double the five per cent it applies to goods from WTO members. If we have to make a choice, it would be better to give priority to the WTO, which is a considerably bigger market than the customs union, Uluk Kydyrbekov, acting director of the Bishkek Business Club, said. But Jumakadyr Akeneev, an economist who was formerly Kyrgyz agriculture minister, believes the country does not face an either-or choice, since the terms of its WTO membership allow it to join regional economic associations. Nor is the difference in customs tariffs a major problem, as the WTO system is flexible and should allow an accommodation to be made, he said. Other economists, while not dismissing the benefits of customs union membership, argue that Kyrgyzstan should hold off until Russia and Kazakstan fulfil their own long-held ambitions to join the WTO. Both countries are still in negotiations with the world trade body. At one point they were considering a joint application as a customs bloc, but they appear to have shifted back to negotiating entry on an individual basis. Kyrgyzstan has time to make its final decision on joining the new organisation [in the period] before the three customs members enter the WTO, Dyatlenko said. Asyl Osmonalieva is an IWPR-trained journalist in Kyrgyzstan. This article was produced jointly under two IWPR projects: Building Central Asian Human Rights Protection & Education Through the Media, funded by the European Commission; and the Human Rights Reporting, Confidence Building and Conflict Information Programme, funded by the Foreign Ministry of Norway. The contents of this article are the sole responsibility of IWPR and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of either the European Union or the Foreign Ministry of Norway. INTERVIEW TAJIKISTAN NEEDS CHILD-FRIENDLY JUSTICE Juvenile rights advocate calls for joined-up reforms to reduce number of youth offenders given custodial sentences. By Parvina Khamidova Recent legal reforms in Tajikistan including the introduction of a new criminal procedures code need to be taken further through the creation of a separate justice system for minors, experts say. At present, offenders under the age of 18 are dealt with by the same prosecutorial and judicial system as adults, although detention takes place in separate institutions. International best practice is to try adolescents in a separately-constituted, specialised judicial process. IWPR asked Gulchehra Rahmanova, legal programmes manager at the Centre for Child Rights in Tajikistan, to set out to why such a separate system is needed. Gulchehra Rahmanova: There are several serious problems, among them the absence of a special, child-friendly system of criminal justice for under-18s. This would seek not to punish but to alter behavioural patterns, and would consist of specialist judges, prosecutors, investigators and defence lawyers. Juvenile crime prevention measures are sorely lacking in Tajikistan. Police place young offenders on their records, but no one follows up with them to help them avoid committing further crimes. We dont have special rehabilitation centres to help children get back on track after they have gone astray. Children under the age of criminal responsibility 16 for most offences and 14 for grave crimes are dealt with by the Commission for Child Rights. They can be detained for lengthy term. Between the ages of 11 and 14, they are placed in special schools, from 14 to 16 in vocational schools. Above that age, they are held in a specialised youth offenders detention facility. Mistreatment and poor conditions are problems in all places of confinement, including in pre-trial detention. IWPR: How would introducing a juvenile justice system change things? Rahmanova: It would bring the legislation, policies and practice of juvenile justice into line with international standards and establish a system that would afford young offenders proper treatment, respect for their rights, and dignity; and that would also curb crime and recidivism rates by responding to individual needs effectively. IWPR: Can you give a sense of the scale of youth crime? Rahmanova: I cant speak for the whole country, but under a project conducted in Dushanbe, lawyers acted for 96 adolescents in 87 separate cases. Of the total, 33 defendants were given custodial terms, 44 given non-custodial sentences, and 19 had charges dropped. Thats just Dushanbe, and only children whose parents couldnt afford to hire a lawyer. IWPR: What progress has there been towards such a system? Rahmanova: Amendments to the criminal code in 2004 include a ban on imprisoning juvenile offenders who have committed crimes of lesser or moderate gravity. The new criminal procedures code includes a special section on the treatment of under-18s. At the same time, however, our legislation does not fully conform to international standards. For example, more authority needs to be given to police and prosecutors to allow them to seek non-custodial solutions for minors. Last year, key ministries and state agencies signed up to a strategy of inter-agency cooperation on juvenile crime prevention. The interior ministrys juvenile crime inspectorate underwent significant reforms in 2008, increasing staff numbers and refocusing the work so that officers spend most of their time on crime prevention. Tajikistans Judicial Council has drafted plans to establish family courts. The current plan is that these courts would hear only disputes, but it has been proposed that they would also deal with criminal cases and rule on such matters as placing minors in care and in correctional facilities. Decisions on the latter currently rest with the Commission for Child Rights, which is part of the executive. Although there have been some important steps towards reform, progress is very slow. Responsibility for juvenile justice is diffused between the interior, justice and education ministries, the Judicial Council, the prosecutor generals office, the Commission for Child Rights, and local government. The various government agencies have demonstrated some commitment to achieving international standards of juvenile justice. However, there is no common vision of how the system would look, so approaches to reform are similarly fragmented. IWPR: What is your organisations experience of working with state institutions on introducing a juvenile justice system? Rahmanova: Since the outset, our organisation has been working closely the Judicial Council, the justice ministrys department of correctional affairs, and the prosecutors office. It is also a member of the governments Commission for Child Rights. I would like to note that this work has been supported by UNICEF in Tajikistan. Thanks to this, we have developed pilot projects with centres in two districts of Dushanbe providing alternative justice. State agencies referred cases to the centres so that offenders would receive non-custodial forms of punishment and rehabilitation, and benefit from a psychological, social and practical services from social workers. The centres work closely with childrens families to identify and understand the motives behind their offences. In seeking more effective progress for reforms, its very important to look at reforming the entire system rather than trying to change specific parts of the system without having an overall plan A national action plan for juvenile justice reform for the next five years has been approved by the Commission for Child Rights, using ideas from the Judicial Council. IWPR: This summer, the Tajik parliament passed legal amendments designed to replace custodial sentences with fines for non-violent crimes. Critics of the move say there is little chance that juvenile offenders will be able to afford to pay fines and will end up in confinement anyway. How do you see it? Rahmanova: Personally, Im against this change as far as minors are concerned. For adults, it does create a more humane form of justice. Its very rare for fines to be imposed on young offenders. It isnt even about the size of the fines, given that most crimes are committed by children from so-called dysfunctional families where parents simply cannot afford to pay a fine. This was the case even before fines were increased. So this change isnt going to contribute to making juvenile justice more humane. In our own organisations experience, there has only been one case in the last 18 months in which a judge has imposed a fine on a young offender, and this was because the individual had a job. Parvina Khamidova is editor and coordinator for IWPRs human rights reporting project in Tajikistan. This article was produced jointly under two IWPR projects: Building Central Asian Human Rights Protection & Education Through the Media, funded by the European Commission; and the Human Rights Reporting, Confidence Building and Conflict Information Programme, funded by the Foreign Ministry of Norway. The contents of this article are the sole responsibility of IWPR and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of either the European Union or the Foreign Ministry of Norway. TAJIK VILLAGE DECIMATED BY TB Disease has reached emergency levels, but village is not designated as priority for governments tuberculosis programme. By Biloli Shams The home where the Karimov family used to live in southern Tajikistan now stands deserted. After seven members of the household died of tuberculosis a few years ago, a little girl who was the sole survivor was taken away to a childrens home. This was no isolated case TB-related fatalities are such a regular occurrence in the village of Karagach that its mountain location has become known as the valley of death. Tajikistans government has a concerted nationwide programme in place to combat tuberculosis, but Karagach seems to have fallen off the radar. Residents say they are not getting the medication they need for what seems to be a virulent strain of TB, and some believe local officials are underreporting the mortality rate to their superiors. The rates of infection and death are staggering 17 people have died so far this year, and there is hardly a family in this community of some 380 that does not have at least one member with TB. The Nosirov extended family, for example, has lost 13 people, from children to grandparents, since 1999 the year many villagers say marked the start of the epidemic. A visit to the village quickly reveals the devastating effect that untreated TB can have when extended families live together in cramped conditions. Without treatment, the infection will spread rapidly. Every year between 11 and 18 people die, Karagach resident Zafar Zardakov said. Why isnt anyone alarmed by that? We had a case where three people died in one day . 57 of our fellow-villagers have died in the last three-and-a half years, most of them young. They should have lived long lives. The chief doctor for Hamadon district, Asror Isupov, said X-rays conducted on 318 Karagach residents had revealed 18 suspected cases. All school-age and pre-school children had been given TB vaccines. Residents are concerned that adults are not receiving the same level of care. Dr Isupov said most cases in the village involved a persistent strain of TB, and dealing with it would require expensive courses of treatment which Tajikistan could not afford. The Tajik government is implementing a United Nations-funded programme that applies the World Health Organisations DOTS (directly observed therapy, short-course) methodology. But current policy is to focus on certain regions, while others like southeast Tajikistan are left out even though Karagach clearly looks like a priority case. Medicine has been allocated to treat 50 people across the country with the persistent strain of TB in the Machiton TB hospital. These 50 come from districts around the capital [Dushanbe], and patients from Hamadon and Vose districts [in the south] will wait in the queue, Dr Isupov said. Village nurse Zulfia Kholova is a member of the Nosirov family by marriage, and her husband Mirzo is among those with TB. Kholova believes the local health authorities are reluctant to disclose the true extent of the problem, thus preventing sufferers in the early and advanced stages of TB from getting the different kinds of treatment they need. When Ive submitted reports from the health centre, Ive been told to put down causes of death other than tuberculosis for most of the cases, she said. Kholova believes a representative of Project Hope, a non-government health charity, was deliberately misled when he visited the Nosirov home and asked about the number of sufferers. When he asked in Russian how many had died, a district hospital representative who was accompanying him translated [from Tajik to Russian] with a completely different figure from what I had said, she recalled. I asked him in Tajik why hed given a lower figure and he replied thats how it should be. Local resident Saidamir Nabotov is similarly suspicious of the way healthcare authorities are handling the TB epidemic. After losing two teenage sons aged 18 and 22 to TB last year and a 26-year-old daughter this February, another son is now showing symptoms of the disease, although a recent X-ray showed up nothing. You can say that almost every family in the village has members with TB, he said. I dont know why they are concealing the number of ill and dying people. Local healthcare staff approached by IWPR declined to comment on allegations that the epidemic was being downplayed. The death and incapacitation of breadwinners from TB has had a devastating effect on villagers ability to sustain themselves. A lucky few have relatives working in countries like Russia and sending money back home. Muborak Zabirovas husband went off to Russia five years ago, but he stopped sending money back after hearing of illness in the family. Zabirovas 22-year-old daughter died of TB recently, and the family has had no income since the last breadwinner, her son Saifullo, 23, had to stop working six months ago and is now emaciated by the disease. Although tuberculosis is airborne and transmitted from one person to another, many people in Karagach believe the very ground they stand on is infected. Dr Isupov also believes the only solution is to resettle all the villages inhabitants. They must be relocated somewhere else in their entirety, he said. The district administration has written specially to the government, but so far theres been no response. Biloli Shams is an IWPR-trained journalist in southern Tajikistan. This article was produced jointly under two IWPR projects: Building Central Asian Human Rights Protection & Education Through the Media, funded by the European Commission; and the Human Rights Reporting, Confidence Building and Conflict Information Programme, funded by the Foreign Ministry of Norway. The contents of this article are the sole responsibility of IWPR and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of either the European Union or the Foreign Ministry of Norway. **** http://iwpr.net/ ********************************************************** REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA provides the international community with a unique insiders' perspective on the region. Using our network of local journalists, the service publishes news and analysis from across Central Asia on a weekly basis. The service forms part of IWPR's Central Asia Project based in Almaty, Bishkek, Tashkent and London, which supports media development and encourages better local and international understanding of the region. IWPR's Reporting Central Asia is supported by the UK Community Fund. The service is published online in English and Russian. The opinions expressed in Reporting Central Asia are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the publication or of IWPR. REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA: Editor-in-Chief: Anthony Borden; Managing Editor: Yigal Chazan; Senior Editor and Acting Central Asia Director: John MacLeod; Central Asia Editor: Saule Mukhametrakhimova. IWPR PROJECT DEVELOPMENT AND SUPPORT: Executive Director: Anthony Borden; Head of Programmes: Sam Compton. **** http://iwpr.net/ ********************************************************** IWPR gives voice to people at the frontlines of conflict, crisis and change. From Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, IWPR helps people in the world's most challenging environments have the information they need to drive positive changes in their lives holding government to account, demanding constructive solutions, strengthening civil society and securing human rights. Amid war, dictatorship, and political transition, IWPR builds the level of public information and responsible debate. IWPR forges the skills and capacity of local journalism, strengthens local media institutions and engages with civil society and governments to ensure that information achieves impact. 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